Wed | May 24, 2017

My vote of no confidence

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 11:00 AM
Gordon Robinson
Heather Hibbert (left) and Sheniek Frazer show off their inked fingers at the Yallahs Primary School polling station after casting their ballots in Western St Thomas on election day, September 3, 2007. -Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
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Gordon Robinson

Feedback to my columns critiquing Westminster emphasises, "What's the alternative?"

Nobody, least of all me, has a monopoly on possible alternatives. Jamaicans are crying out for democracy and accountability. In that regard, the only givens are Westminster is unsuitable; anti-democratic; has failed Jamaica miserably; and its abandonment is impatient of debate. The nation needs a community-driven conversation regarding alternatives.

But, since you asked, I'd begin with voting. This absurd system, whereby we vote ONLY FOR CONSTITUENCY REPRESENTATIVES and only once every five years, must be scrapped. Jamaicans' participation in 'democracy' must be deeper, more respected, and more effective than that farce permits. For example, why should Jamaica, having voted out a sitting prime minister, be forced to swallow him/her as a prime ministerial possibility ever again? This is demagoguery, not democracy. Our Constitution should force a defeated prime minister to resign as party leader and make way for delegates to present Jamaica with a fresh choice. This repeated offering of defeated prime ministers for recycling is an intolerable electoral insult.

Jamaican ballots should offer at least two voting options, namely, a separate choice for MP and prime minister. If I want a PNP MP and a JLP prime minister (or vice versa), why am I bullied into surrendering one of my choices and voting ONLY for a constituency representative?

Why're our party leaders all-powerful to the extent that Senate appointments are their exclusive domain? Why can't Jamaicans vote directly for Jamaica's Senate? Are we not sufficiently intelligent? There are endless options, including proportional representation, to make the Upper House a democratically elected state institution; widen participation; and turn the Senate, currently a rubber stamp's rubber stamp, into a living, breathing organ of social enlightenment.

Prime ministers should be able to name Cabinets from within or without Parliament regardless of political affiliation. Proposed appointments to Cabinet and statutory bodies should be thoroughly vetted and approved, in a public process, by the people's representatives (MPs/senators). This would prevent blatant anomalies like a PNP treasurer being appointed, unknown to the majority of citizens, to a statutory board. That's democracy?

MANDATE MINISTERIAL APPOINTMENTS

Jamaica urgently needs to brand national essentials off limits for political gamesmanship. Education, health, national security, and infrastructure should be run by de facto governments of national unity. A way must be found to mandate ministerial appointments from both political parties working together to ensure success in these critical areas. The governing mantra for these national priorities must be like basketball (NBA: No Bullcrap Allowed).

An independent judiciary is democracy's sine qua non, so we must sever the link between Jamaica's judiciary and politics. The justice ministry, a nomenclatural oxymoron and an institutional tautology, is accomplishing nothing but wasting public funds and subverting our Constitution. It must be scrapped. The judiciary, DPP, DSP and attorney general's offices are, collectively, Jamaica's 'justice ministry'. But Jamaican politicians, petrified lest their grubby hands not grip every wheel, politicise everything, even 'justice'.

The judiciary needs no bureaucratic albatross hanging around justice's neck, peering into justice's business, and approving justice's salaries. Why must judges beg politicians for salary increases? These same judges sit in judgment of alleged government abuses, including deciding on the constitutionality of acts of Parliament? C'mon, man! The Office of the Chief Justice should have its own budget (into which all fines levied by Jamaican courts should be paid) and should decide every issue affecting the courts, including vexed issues of remuneration and appointment of QCs.

Neither the practising Bar nor politics should be involved in elevating advocates to QC. Why must senior counsel beg his/her competitors AND the political directorate to be honoured? It's demeaning. It invites corruption. Only judges (and retired judges) should nominate and select QC candidates.

Either we stop pussyfooting around the problem and improve our treatment of the judiciary NOW or risk losing more brilliant young judges like Justice Ingrid Mangatal, who recently accepted lesser status but superior working conditions in Cayman. In Jamaica, she excelled in the commercial court, where every lawyer on both sides of every matter wanted her to preside over their trials. Her prospects here were limitless. Before her, Justice Roy Jones, another beacon for the future of the Jamaican judiciary, bolted as soon as he was appointed to act as an appeal court judge. Justice Mangatal also didn't even wait to be fully appointed. That's two of the brightest stars in the judicial constellation gone forever. Pluto knows:

One more Jamaican gaan abroad.

One more disciple leave de yaad ... .

Westminster works in larger, more developed nations driven by centuries of tradition and huge Parliaments. In the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Canada, Opposition Leader Justin Trudeau addressed the nation:

"I'm deeply saddened by yesterday's horrific events ... , and unreservedly condemn these brutal and heartless acts of violence.

" ... I've extended an offer of full support to the Government, along with any assistance members of our party can provide at this time.

" My thoughts and prayers, along with those of my colleagues, go out to the family and friends of the victims of this horrific shooting ... .

" Words cannot express the deep sadness we feel ... .

" To the brave women and men who rushed to the scene to confront the shooter, and help keep us safe, I can say only thank you ... .

" In the days that follow, there'll be questions, anger, and perhaps confusion. This is natural, but we cannot let it get the better of us. Losing ourselves to fear and speculation is the intention of those who commit these heinous acts.

" They mean to shake us. We'll remain resolved.

" They want us to forget ourselves. Instead, we should remember.

" We should remember who we are. We're a proud democracy, a welcoming and peaceful nation, and a country of open arms and open hearts. We're a nation of fairness, justice, and the rule of law.

" We won't be intimidated into changing that.

" If anything, these are the values and principles to which we must hold on even tighter. Our dedication to democracy and the institutions we've built are the foundation of our society. A continued belief in both will guide us correctly into the future ... .

" Criminals cannot and will not dictate to us how we act as a nation, how we govern ourselves, or how we treat each other. They cannot and will not dictate our values. And they don't get to decide how we use our shared public spaces.

" ... Canada isn't innocent to the threats we face, and we know we're not immune. What's true is we haven't let those threats shape us, and we've never bowed to those who mean to undermine our values and way of life.

" We have remained Canadians. And this should be how we'll carry on ....

" ... In the coming days, we'll be inundated with pictures and videos showing what happened. But there is one in particular we should remember: the picture in our minds we have of a Canadian guarding Canadians. That's who we truly are. That's who we'll continue to be."

Will Jamaica ever grow this far up? Young Andrew, take heed. If there's a terrorist threat, no matter how unlikely, don't berate Government for acting decisively. Stop pinching pennies with national security. National security is NOT a political football. Keep your disagreements behind closed doors.

Trust me on this. These methods of improving governance are our national priorities, politics be damned. Until we force our political leaders to address these priorities, I guarantee you voting out a corrupt or incompetent government every five years won't make the slightest difference.

Do WE have the mental discipline to suppress lust for scarce benefits and spoils and fight for accountable, participatory government? Will our churches march FOR good governance or only AGAINST human nature? Will we unite and announce to the world that any government 'elected' under this undemocratic system is illegitimate? Or will we once again put on our orange/green T-shirts, eat free curry goat, drink free beer, jump up at rallies, lean out of buses taking us back to our humble hovels shouting party slogans to the wind, then line up next election and 'vote dem out'?

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.